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Oscar Winners’ Annual Revenue Bump Won't Come at Box Office

Oscar Winners' Annual Revenue Bump Won't Come at Box Office

Analysis: With most of the Oscar winners having already cashed in on their nominations at theaters, studios will focus their marketing muscle on DVD and download revenue

The Academy Awards — seen by 40 million U.S. viewers on Sunday night — will stoke interest in the movies that won big. Traditionally, the studios have added theaters and pumped up marketing to drive those viewers to the multiplexes, but the box office isn't where the studios will look to cash in after the Oscars this year.

Most of the Best Picture nominees are nearing the end of their theatrical runs and already have capitalized — in a big way — on their Oscar nominations at the box office. So DVDs, downloads and pay-per-view will be where most consumers will be looking in the coming weeks and where the studios will likely cash in on their Sunday night triumphs.

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Best Picture winner “Argo” was released on Oct. 12 but is still doing business in theaters; it made $2 million for Warner Bros. from 802 locations over the weekend to raise its domestic total to $130 million. But it has been available for download and on DVD since Feb. 19, and that's where the growth will come.

“A thriller like 'Argo' plays very well on the small screen, and there's nothing like that little gold sticker that says 'Best Picture Oscar winner' to boost sales," Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. "Even with its big box office run, I see it doing major business on DVD."

It's difficult to quantify how big a boost an Oscar win can provide as studios closely guard sales figures on anciliary revenues like downloads and DVD sales, but there's no doubt it helps.

The Oscar success of “Life of Pi,” which won four awards including Best Director for Ang Lee, comes at an opportune time for Fox Home Entertainment, which is looking to gain a foothold with the Digital HD initiative it launched in September.  Fox made online downloads of “Pi” available five days before the Oscars – and well ahead of its March 12 DVD release – at a slew of digital stores including Amazon Instant Video, CinemaNow, Google Play, iTunes, Kindle Fire, NOOK Video, PlayStation, VUDU, Xbox Video and YouTube for under $15.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” has been out on DVD since December, but several of the Oscar winners have yet to be released in that format or for downloading. Upcoming are “Django Unchained” (April 16), “Zero Dark Thirty” (March 19) and “Les Miserables” (March 22). DreamWorks has yet to confirm a date for “Lincoln,” but it's likely in March, and an April DVD release is expected for “Amour.”

The bump can apply to music, too. The soundtrack of "Les Miserables," which debuted at Christmas, is back on top of the iTunes sales list after a sales spike following Sunday's Oscars, Universal reported Monday. A deluxe, 2-disc album will be out on March 19. 

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Moviegoers inspired to see their Oscar favorites on the big screen will still be able to find them in theaters. All of the Best Picture finalists are still in at least 400 theaters, with the exception of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which came out in June, and “Amour,” which is still rolling out in the U.S.  Some studios may pick up play dates, but we're talking hundreds of theaters, not thousands.

The studios did a good job of capitalizing on their success during the extra 12 days between the Oscar nominations and the awards that the Academy's accelerated schedule afforded. From Jan. 10, when the Oscar nominations were announced, through the Thursday before the Oscars, the nine Best Picture nominees grossed more than $300 million at the domestic box office, according to Box Office Mojo.

The biggest earners in the post-noms period were Sony's “Zero Dark Thirty” ($83 million) and the Weinstein Company's “Silver Linings Playbook” ($65 million) because they waited to go wide until the nominations came out. Weinstein's “Django Unchained” and Universal's “Les Miserables,” both of which came out at Christmas, took in $45 million and $38 million, respectively, in the post-nomination period. November releases “Lincoln” ($31 million) from DreamWorks and Fox's “Life of Pi” ($20 million) were able to cash in, and even “Argo,' which came out on October, added $17 million during that period.

Going forward, "Silver Linings Playbook” and “Amour” are the movies best positioned to turn their Oscar wins into box office returns.

Also read: Why 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' Is the Box Office Winner in Oscar's Best-Picture Race

“We think there's still money to be made,” the Weinstein Company's head of distribution Erik Lomis told TheWrap in regard to “Silver Linings Playbook.” The quirky comedy about mental health remains in more than 2,000 theaters. It took in $6 million over the past weekend and Jennifer Lawrence's high-profile Best Actress victory will help raises is overall domestic total, which is at $107 million.

Sony Pictures Classics has yet to go wide with Best Foreign Language Oscar “Amour,” which was in roughly 330 theaters last weekend. While it features a standout performance from Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva, it's in French, and the subject matter – an unflinching look at love and aging – is very difficult, so it won't be breaking any records. But it should be able to double its $5 million domestic total over the next few weeks.

No one is sweating the fact that there won't be much of a box office bump. it's the flip side of a situation that saw seven of the Best Picture Oscar nominees come into the ceremony as box -office hits. Six of the nine have crossed the $100 million threshold, and “Zero Dark Thirty,”with a $93 million domestic total, should get there soon.